Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Broad and Narrow

 Broad and Narrow

Last week we had the “broad” (council) meeting; this week, the “narrow” (consistory) one. It falls to me to chair both the broad and the narrow.

The broad meetings include the deacons. They usually sit together in a tight-knit group and, when they have the opportunity, whisper jokes to each other. They believe that their diaconal meetings are more pleasant and that they can conduct their business more efficiently. They convey a somewhat contemptuous air since they feel that they are not taken seriously. 

The significance of these meetings cannot be overstated, as everything carries weight within the realm of a church council. Take, for example, the approval of the minutes, which were very close to being approved without amendment. Thankfully, Brother Volte, ever vigilant, pointed out that the $100 that had been set aside for the work of evangelism in South-East Friesland had not been allocated to the deputies for this work but, rather, to the committee for this work. Opinions varied with six brethren addressing the matter, and it took ten minutes before Brother Volte was deemed to be correct, and the minutes were duly amended.  Yet, this was merely the prelude. Following this minor skirmish came a greater battle. 

The administration committee had proposed placing 20 chairs in the auditorium to alleviate the shortage of available seating in the Sunday services. 

We braced ourselves, and the debate unfolded. Except for three reticent brothers, everyone had their say. At times, the discussion seemed to be winding down, prompting my attempts to bring things to a decision by glancing at the clock. However, it then rose again to unprecedented heights. We discussed topics like church attendance, the church budget, the price of chairs, with or without armrests, a second meeting place, the custodian, the organist, and the heating—every aspect of church life found its way into the discussion.

New wordsmiths entered the arena, laughter punctuated the air, and sharp words were exchanged. Heads turned red, eyes sparkled, and voices grew hoarse. As the clock struck eleven, we struggled to recall that the original topic was those 20 chairs. A decision wasn’t made, for one does well to ponder such matters twice. The proposal was tabled until the next broad meeting. Nonetheless, the words of the form for ordination rang true: “From all this, we see what glorious work the ministers of the Word may perform.”

This week we had a narrow meeting focusing on the home visit reports. Towards the end, a delicate issue emerged. It transpired that Elder Verlaat had been slandered by a member of the congregation, Brother Meeren, during a conversation. Elder Verlaat, one of the silent members of the previous meeting, served as the treasurer of the organization of which Brother Meeren was also a member. Meeren had spread rumors suggesting that Brother Verlaat was not to be trusted with the treasury. A brief examination by the board proved that Brother Verlaat’s administration of the funds was beyond reproach, and he was exonerated. Brother Meeren then disseminated other less verifiable rumors about Brother Verlaat.  

Because of the falsehood of these accusations, a collective sense of indignation permeated the room. Suggestions varied from Meeren openly retracting his accusations before the consistory to him facing censure and church discipline. After many rounds of discussion, I proposed sending a delegation from the consistory to admonish Brother Meeren.

Silence enveloped the meeting, until Brother Verlaat took the floor: 

“Should we do that, Mr. Chairman? I know Brother Meeren well. At bottom, he is a good man. However, his wife is always unwell, and his eldest son has brought him grief. Life weighs heavily on him, and, under such strain, one easily errs. Wouldn’t it be better if I had a private conversation with him? I hold no grudge and am ready to be the lesser.” 

A hush fell over the meeting. It felt as though the echo of a voice from two millennia ago was resonating in the room, and a gentle breeze swept away all the other suggestions. 

As we made our way home the clerk quietly remarked, “Last week was the broad meeting, but it felt narrow; this week we had the narrow meeting, but it was immensely broad.” 

The clerk had also been one of the three silent council members.

From Peper en Zout (“Breed en Smal”); tr. George van Popta, 2024